Howard Popeck wonders if his vinyl records are filters?

You might be surprised by the fact that many new vinyl releases today actually are recorded, mixed and mastered digitally before being transferred to vinyl. Are you? Perhaps not; in which case, no matter. It probably won’t negatively influence what follows here.

Many studios today are digital based and it’s easier for musicians to record digitally and then master the results onto both CD and vinyl if they care about sound quality enough to release on vinyl. There are endless debates in the musician fraternity as well as the audiophile one as to whether vinyl releases axiomatically sound better than the digital versions. I'm not going to add my thoughts to that debate.

Some argue, and I agree with their argument that the restrictions placed on mastering for vinyl coupled with the format and playback process contribute greatly to the sound of vinyl irrespective of how it was first recorded. Still with me? Good; so moving on …

My view is that the vinyl sound so many love is analogous to that valve sound similarly loved by many. Nothing particularly earth-shattering there you might think and, superficially, you’re correct. So now let’s examine the stated ethos of most audio makers. You know – ‘always true to the music’, ‘closest to the original sound’,’ just like the master tape’ and so on. Seems familiar does it?

PS Audio’s design motto has always been “to do no harm – to make as small a sonic footprint as humanely possible when designing our equipment.”  Not only do I like the sentiment but I admire the way it’s expressed.

Apparently this is why PSA intellectually reject products like added tube buffer stages between products to get “the sound”. However they recognise that implementing them can, “in many cases, improve the musicality of the system – just as releasing a digital recording on vinyl can”.

Obviously then a conflict and quite possibly one that might never satisfactorily be resolved. I still love music reproduced via both my turntable and my CD player. Inconveniently from time to time I do wonder with vinyl recordings made from the early 1980s onwards if they were digitally recorded and now heard by me on vinyl whereas merely by examine the date of the original recording you can generally tell if it’s an original analogue recording. However coming full circle i.e. back to my original question, and against the background memories (mostly highly pleasurable) of valve equipment I've owned I’m increasingly convinced that many of my records are indeed devices filtering the original recordings and you know what, I really don’t care – other than for curiosity reasons!.

In conclusion I'll leave the final words to PSA; “Do no harm OR make it sound more like music?” Quite so.

Thank you for your attention.

3 thoughts on “Howard Popeck wonders if his vinyl records are filters?

  1. Hello Howard

    A bit of a coincidental topic meshing here, not entirely on your points, as I have currently been ruminating negatively on digital remastering of analogue recording.

    Not particularly relevantly, any discs mentioned are second-hand or charity-shop purchases. Also I know that I can only ascribe impressions to my own (flawed) hearing, from my own stereo set-up.

    A while back I bought a ‘digitally remastered’ Muddy Waters compilation LP. I hated it so much it went to Oxfam. Over-hard, harsh, unpleasant to listen to. I have avoided vinyl described as digitally remastered ever since. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Mothership’ CD, yet another compilation, this time re-remastered by Jimmy Page. The aim seemed to be to increase the sharpness, and the dynamics (!). I preferred the previous edition ‘Remasters’. Two latest CD purchases. King Crimson (college days nostalgia), an uncomfortable screechy top-end, not like the LP used to sound, nor my cassette tape recording, it has had me swapping about different (kit) feet in attempted mitigation, surprisingly with some small success. The Doors ‘Strange Days Remasters’. Amazingly, some tracks with added sibilance. How do they do that?

    Maybe the fault is with my equipment, and my pensioners ears are now more sensitive to top-end distress, but most of my collection still sounds fine.

    I contend that the music of the day could only be mastered to sound how it would reproduce on the analogue equipment of the time, principally onto vinyl. So, if you want the authentic sound on a reissue, where is the virtue in transferring from analogue to digital and back to vinyl? Obviously new recording is a different matter, but this mania for pushing the high registers in older recordings into the stratosphere will cause damage to the molars I still possess.

    Incidentally, I have a device the size of a cigarette packet for transferring from LP to laptop (and hence onto Cd if wanted), and whilst not absolutely clinically accurate in comparison to the original as emergent from my speakers, it achieves a most pleasurable result.

    Thank you for indulging my current pet theme.

    Ed Hryniewicz

    1. Dear Ed, thank you. As usual I find myself in general agreement with your observations. All too often I have wondered about the supposed merits of both re-mastering and re-mixing; sometimes carried out concurrently. The results have been varied in terms of the satisfaction I achieved. Of course audio memory, and the inaccuracy of it plays a part. For example, the sheer joy I had all those years ago with the vinyl issue of the first Dire Straits LP probably means that from an emotional / subjective standpoint no digital ‘enhancement’ will be satisfactory. However, being a devotee of The Who I have to say that every reissue of ‘Tommy’ and ‘Quadrophenia’ does indeed bring increased pleasure; more detail and greater insights. Anyway your comment has happily catalysed a thought here and I thank you. The thought being that I should present these questions to recording engineers and producers. Possibly some will find both the time and the enthusiasm to respond. We’ll see. Thanks again – Howard

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